Squid Ink Linguine, King Prawns, Tomato, Chilli & Rocket
inspired by Bocca in Cielo
Last weekend I worked my first shift behind a bar this year. Normally going back to pulling pints is like a second nature to me. Normally I can slot right back into it.
That’s the key word really isn’t it. Normally.
After spending the last couple of months trying to work out how the theatre industry can start to grind back into action, and how much harder our jobs are now we have to abide by a seemingly endless list of new health and safety precautions, I should have been forewarned.
But it’s fair to say I was not prepared for the new normal of working in a pub.
True, the shift was somewhat sprung on me at the last minute. The downside of Aidan being a pub owner is that he is always on call. If a member of staff doesn’t show up, and no one else can be found to cover, then he has to go in. Or if there’s any trouble. He goes in.
I one ate an Easter roast lamb dinner by myself for exactly that reason. The meat was out of the oven, I was making gravy, and then Aidan had to go. Someone has started a fight in the pub. Leaving him a plate to warm up when he eventually got home wasn’t quite the evening either of us had planned.
It was a lazy Saturday afternoon. Around 5 o ‘clock we were thinking about a visit to the pub down the road. By 6pm we were at Aidan’s pub in Clerkenwell. I was going along merely for moral support. By that I meant drink some free wine and generally stay out of the way.
Sadly no. That didn’t happen either.
Usually one person is enough to run the bar at the moment. It’s so much quieter than normal because of Covid. But for some unknown reason this Saturday night was busy. Not really busy. But busy enough that I quickly worked out that my wine drinking would have to wait.
I was going to be working.
I always enjoy being behind a bar. A bar is many things. A place to congregate (not anymore), a place to leave your drinks (sorry no) and a place to sit (definitely not). All the things a bar used to be are currently not permitted.
At it’s best a bar in a pub can be a place to tell stories, to meet friends, to make new friends. A place to drink, a place to eat, a place to share. I have laughed at bars, cried at bars and even occasionally danced on bars. A bar is the heart and soul of any pub.
But now a bar now is feels like something else. A bar is now a barrier. A way of keeping customers and staff separate. And as of Thursday of this week, you won’t even be able to go up to a bar to order a drink.
Obviously I didn’t know on Saturday night that would be the case. But now thinking back I wonder what would have changed about the shift? Would it have been different? Worse? Or perhaps better?
Table service definitely takes more time, more staff and more effort. All too often recently I’ve been in a pub which is table service only and watched with despair as our drinks sit on the bar for ages, getting warm, as overworked and undertrained staff try and cope.
It’s not a simple switch.
To do table service properly takes time and practice. Staff not being on the floor enough means customers waiting impatiently to order. Staff hovering over you makes you uncomfortable. Constantly being asked if you have everything you need feels like a hard sell. It’s a tricky thing to balance.
However Aidan and I have both waited tables before. We could have managed I think. But it would have been a lot harder. And that’s before you get into the policing of customers in terms of how many can sit at a table, and how far apart they should be.
However keeping customers at tables does have one very clear advantage. It breaks the old pub routine.
Because unlike bar staff that get a full (if somewhat hurried in my case) Covid training on how to work in a pub, there’s no such training for the customers.
Telling one guy on Saturday for the fifth time that he’s not allowed to stand at the bar with his pint is the perfect example. Yes it’s annoying. But it’s not entirely his fault. He’s not deliberately ignoring what I say. He’s just had a few, and is falling back on years and years of old habits.
Our past behaviours don’t simply stop because we are told to stop them. We need teaching about what to do differently. Maybe until a bar can go back to being a place to gather, it’s easiest to just keep customers away.
One thing I definitely had to think differently about was my dinner. The bar was going to be my dinner table.
As a trade off for coming in to work, Aidan he said he would buy me some takeaway from a lovely little Italian restaurant a couple of doors down from the pub. My husband knows me well. The possibility of something nice for dinner and I was instantly on board.
Looking at the menu outside Bocca in Cielo I know exactly what I would go for.
Linguine al nero di seppia con gamberoni piccanti, San Marzano tomato e rucoletta
Squid ink linguine with chilli king prawns, ripe vine tomato and rocket.
That is my kind of pasta dish! One of our favourite pasta dishes to cook at home is a king prawn, tomato and rocket pasta. A classic Jamie Oliver recipe that you can find here. Only this one sounded even more amazing as it came with squid ink pasta.
However the idea of eating this at the bar, quickly or potentially in several sittings if I had to get up and help serve customers just didn’t appeal.
What did appeal was the homemade gnocchi with pesto, dolcelatte and butternut squash. It was delicious, rich and indulgent. The perfect comfort food to get me through to the end of the shift. The lovely waitress even delivered it to the pub for us when it was ready.
So now here I am, almost a week gone by and still dreaming of squid ink pasta.
As fate would have it I was in a Waitrose the other day and I found cuttlefish ink. I wasn’t even looking for it. In all honesty I only went in to buy a sandwich. But 20 minutes later I emerged with a bulging bag of interesting groceries. Including a jar of cuttlefish ink.
I assume cuttlefish ink is pretty similar to squid ink. A quick google reveals that cuttlefish taste like a cross between squid and octopus. Plus they have much larger ink sacs, and therefore a lot more ink.
I also need to google how you make this amazing black pasta. Turns out that is pretty simple. Just add a teaspoon of the ink when you mix the egg into your flour, and you end up with a beautiful black ball of pasta dough. Into the fridge it goes to rest.
I get some king prawns out of the freezer. They’re already peeled, so there’s nothing to do other than wait for them to defrost. The sauce will come together in a matter of minutes.
I get some tomatoes from the garden. Aidan said the other day that our tomato plants didn’t seem to be producing many ripe fruit. I had to confess that they were, it’s just I was eating them all before Aidan got to see them. He didn’t look too impressed.
Now to roll out the pasta. It turns out the squid ink does make the dough a bit stickier than I’m used to so I use a fair bit of flour to dust the work surface and the pasta machine as I go. But soon enough I have a tangle of floury pasta strands.
Time to make the sauce.
To begin with I fry a chopped garlic clove and some chilli flakes in olive oil. I roughly chop the tomatoes and in they go. After about four minutes I add some sundered tomato paste and a splash of white wine, and let it bubble away until it no longer smells like alcohol and has reduced. Once the pasta goes into boiling water the prawns and some lemon zest go into the sauce pan. As does a handful of rocket.
I drag the cooked pasta across into the pan and mix it all together. A squeeze of lemon, a decent grind of black pepper and a bit more rocket is all it needs. It’s ready to plate up.
I’m amazed at the colour of the pasta. It tastes amazing too. Not a strong flavour, but a subtle richness that works perfectly with the prawns.
I’m glad I waited to try this. Definitely not a dish you want to rush eating. It’s one you want to enjoy.
Even better when you have a glass of wine to go with it. Which I wouldn’t have been able to have, perched at the end of the bar with my gnocchi.
I did eventually get my glass of wine last Saturday. As we closed the bar up and called last orders. There’s another thing that’s about to change. Closing time.
From now on it’s everyone out by 10pm. Why? I think that’s a question for another blog post.
Squid Ink Linguine with King Prawns, Tomato, Chilli & Rocket
Squid Ink Pasta
- 100 g 00 pasta flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp squid ink (or cuttlefish ink)
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 pinch dried chilli flakes
- 10 cherry tomatoes
- 1 tsp sundried tomato paste
- 100 ml white wine
- 8-10 raw king prawns, peeled and deveined
- ½ lemon
- 1 handful rocket
- olive oil
- First make the pasta. Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Crack in the egg and add the squid ink. Mix together slowly. Once combined knead for about five minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Roll the pasta out using a pasta machine. If the dough is sticky keep the machine and work surface dusted with flour. Once in long strands dust in more flour to stop them for sticking together whilst you make the sauce.
- Place a frying pan on a medium high heat and put a pot of salted water on to boil.
- Crush or finely chop a garlic clove and fry in olive oil with the chilli flakes for a couple of minutes. Half the tomatoes and add to the frying pan. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, until the tomatoes soften.
- Add the tomato paste and white wine and let the sauce bubble for a few minutes. Zest the lemon and add it to the sauce.
- Once you have water boiling add the pasta and cook for about 3 minutes. At the same time add the king prawns and the rocket to the sauce to cook. Once the pasta is done drag it into the frying pan and mix together. Season with salt, lots of black pepper and squeeze over the lemon juice. Scatter with a little more fresh rocket and seve immediately.